State Chair, Vermont Progressive Party
Former Burlington City Councilor
On January 12th, Mayor Weinberger addressed the Burlington City Democratic Caucus and took direct aim at the Progressive Party. He toggled between praising current Progressive City Councilors for their collaborative nature and then harshly labeling local Progressives as divisive, reactionary and fringe. The Mayor also declared Progressives as anti-environment and anti-worker, among many other distorted labels. He went on to claim Democratic credit for recent pro-environment and pro-worker efforts in the city, yet neglected to note that virtually all of these efforts were started by Progressives. Progressives initiated Burlington’s move towards 100% renewable energy sourcing by positioning the Burlington Electric Department to purchase the Winooski hydro plant and by creating the McNeil plant. It was Progressives who pushed recent pro-worker efforts such as supporting the Howard Center workers and maintaining livable wage standards for contractors/businesses at the airport while the Mayor opposed both measures. Clearly, the Mayor’s critique of the Progressive Party is misplaced and his efforts to give the bulk of the credit to Democrats for Burlington’s successes ignores the efforts of 30 years of Progressive leadership in Burlington.
The Mayor was exactly what he criticized local Progressives to be – reactionary. Many residents recently organized and opposed a major development project at the downtown mall and two related ballot initiatives in November. The Mayor chose to label these residents and anyone who agreed with them “fringe and reactionary.” What the Mayor sees and labels as “fringe” opinions is democracy in action. These residents represent the underrepresented voices and neighborhoods in the city. The Mayor should embrace differences of opinion and find ways to convene underrepresented residents, not push them away. For Burlington to be a stronger, better community, everyone in Burlington should feel welcomed and encouraged to participate in matters that impact our community.
More importantly, attacking the local Progressive Party and labeling the Party as fringe based on recent city council endorsements represents the Mayor’s poor knowledge of who our 2017 council candidates are and why they are running for local office. While any council candidate should have formed an opinion of the high profile recent development projects, labeling someone who disagrees with the Mayor fringe or reactionary is out of line. The 2017 Progressive endorsed candidates include: City Council President Jane Knodell, a champion of those exact development projects as well as many neighborhood revitalization projects, Charles Winkleman, an early educator and dedicated activist looking to address affordability issues for young people in Burlington, and Charles Simpson, an academic and champion of public transportation and strengthening neighborhood communities.
While Winkleman and Simpson disagreed with aspects of the mall development project, they do not deserve such reactionary labeling by our Mayor. These candidates are running on more than one single issue. Moreover, there are various opinions on the development project within the Progressive Party. Disagreement and discourse is healthy in a democracy within a city and within a Party. It is the job of elected leaders to take the high road and be defenders of good process and stronger communities. Elected leaders should also expect to be criticized and challenged. It comes with the territory. It is the job of leaders to go high in these moments. The Mayor went low.